HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Ottawa Aims To Soften Search Bill
Pubdate: Tue, 23 Mar 1999
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 1999, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Brian Laghi, Parliamentary Bureau


But Critics Still Aren't Happy With Plan To Let U.S. Officials Detain
Travellers In Canada

Ottawa -- Ottawa is preparing to back off key portions of a
controversial bill allowing U.S. border officers in Canadian airports
to search, seize and detain travellers they suspect of trying to take
drugs or other illegal substances into the United States.

Immigration lawyers who denounced the bill earlier this month said
yesterday they have received a series of proposed amendments from
Canada's Foreign Affairs Department that would alleviate some of their

They say the bill would compromise Canadian sovereignty by giving U.S.
officials the right to detain, search and fine people heading to the
United States from Canadian airports.

"As a result of the Canadian Bar Association testimony [at a Senate
committee], the Canadian government has reviewed the legislation and
has determined that amendments are required," says a letter sent to
the CBA.

According to the proposal, people would be allowed to refuse to answer
questions of border officials and avoid being subjected to a search.

However, border workers would continue to have the right to search a
person if they suspected the traveller had been untruthful, said
Michael Greene, a lawyer familiar with the act.

"We have reworded the clauses to ensure that travellers' refusal to
answer a question in and of itself is not an obstruction and does not
provide grounds for a search," the government letter says.  Foreign
Affairs officials are to appear before a Senate committee today to
discuss the proposals and perhaps introduce amendments.  They have
also asked the CBA to agree to their new wording, a move the lawyers
say they will not do until their other concerns are dealt with.

The bill has earned criticism from immigration experts, who say Canada
should not allow U.S. officials to search and detain individuals on
Canadian soil. Currently, a search can take place only if an
individual agrees to it, Mr. Greene said, and the traveller can leave
the area if he or she wishes, forfeiting their flight. The bar
association would like to continue the voluntary nature of the system,
he said.

"The whole process should be voluntary. We should not be turning
Canadian airports into American territory," Mr. Greene said.

Mr. Green said the letter also says the government is willing to
reduce the penalties for those who breach the act, and will allow for
a lawyer to be present in the preclearance zone where the U.S. 
officials operate.

Preclearance allows U.S.-bound travellers to be screened in a Canadian
airport, thereby avoiding long lineups at customs on the U.S. side. It
also means travellers from Canada can land at U.S.  airports that lack
customs services.

The procedure became a cause celebre around this time last year when a
Calgary man was detained at the Calgary airport after he was found to
have a minute amount of marijuana in his bags. The man was escorted by
a U.S. border official to a bank machine, where he removed cash to pay
a $500 fine.

An official with Foreign Affairs said the department could introduce
amendments today. Sean Rowan added that the department agreed to
review the act last week, after the CBA made its proposals, which he
called helpful.

Howard Greenberg, a Toronto immigration lawyer who helped critique the
bill in front of the Senate committee last week, said it appears that
the federal government is trying to be constructive.

"Some of the amendments have addressed concerns made the Canadian Bar
Association," he said in an interview.

"But there are still issues which have not been fully addressed, like
detention and the right to withdraw, which the Senate would be
well-advised to address directly." Mr. Greenberg said it appears
unclear whether a person who refuses to answer questions will be
allowed to leave the area.
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